Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

A fitting symbol of a trying season

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These have been trying times for Bomber fans, what with being stuck back in a stinky old stadium they were promised they'd never have to sit through another game in, and with the team being mostly bottom-feeder fare for otherwise high-flying clubs.

And there is the matter of the Big Blue's faithful being furious at the way the front office has imposed its no-outside-food-or-beverage rules. That latter lament being symbolized by the banning of outside water bottles.

Which is why, perhaps, the fans looking for something to feel good about during the Aug. 16 game against Hamilton were so awestruck by the mysterious appearance of a hawk-like bird that perched itself so close among them they could have touched it.

Instead, it was the fans who were touched by the bird's strange presence -- sitting so still on an upper-deck railing with a view, as if watching the game below.

All of which helps explain why the story and a photo of the bird quickly took flight in cyberspace last week.

It even moved one woman in the stands to write to the Free Press's Random Acts of Kindness column in an effort to thank the fans for the way they treated the bird with such respect; a manner of behaviour, curiously enough, many Bomber fans complained they hadn't seen modelled much recently at the old football yard.

In her letter, Annette Fleming, who was attending the game with her husband, Larry Wiebe, recalled when she first noticed the bird.

There was a commotion in the first few rows of sections 3 and 3A.

People had their cellphones out taking photos. But, as she noted, nobody was bothering the bird and, despite the noise and occasional roar from the crowd, it didn't budge.

And when the game ended and the people around began leaving, the bird remained motionless.

Fleming concluded the bird was either ill or too weak to fly.

I should mention something important here; Fleming is a vet. As in veterinarian. And acting instinctively, when most of the spectators had left, she drew close, and then even closer. First covering the hawk's head, and then wrapping it in her jacket. As those who had lingered watched, Fleming examined the bird, and after finding no apparent problems -- "other than it was very thin" -- she took it back home to her clinic at the Oakbank Birds Hill Animal Hospital.

There she fed it some meat and offered it water.

Fleming was able to identify the bird as a merlin, a member of the falcon family that likes fast food. You know, the small rodents that like to scurry and songbirds that dart and swoop.

Later, it would be determined the bird was a young adult merlin. And it is common -- more common than not -- for hunting birds to die in their first year because they haven't been able to master their instinctive killing ways.

Of course, while Fleming is a vet, she's not a specialist in wild creatures and what it takes to rehabilitate a thin young bird.

So the next morning, Fleming and the bird made the half-hour car ride from Oakbank to éle des Ch�nes, where the Manitoba Wildlife Haven Rehabilitation Centre is located. It's a sanctuary, operated through donations, that tends to 1,700 injured and orphaned creatures each year, almost three-quarters of which are birds.

And that's where Fleming left the bird a week ago Friday.

"It will be cared for there until it is stronger and can be released," Fleming wrote hopefully in her letter to Random Acts of Kindness.

A letter she concluded this way:

"I would like to thank all the Bomber fans who were so courteous to let this little bird rest undisturbed throughout the game. And thank you also to the people who were genuinely concerned for its welfare when I was examining it. Also, a heartfelt thank-you to the caring staff at the Manitoba Wildlife Haven who care for so many species of ill and injured wildlife. You all help make the world a better place."

Among those people at the haven is Reesa Atnikov, a certified wildlife rehabilitation worker, and it was her I called for a condition update.

Unfortunately, it died Sunday, two days after Fleming took it to the haven.

The cause?

"It was starving and dehydrated," she said.

Starving and dehydrated?

How sadly symbolic for a bird whose last public perch was in the stands with the fans at a Bomber game.

For heaven's sake.

gordon.sinclair@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 25, 2012 B1

History

Updated on Saturday, August 25, 2012 at 11:26 AM CDT: adds photo

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